Arts & Crafts & Biohazards
I don’t specifically remember whose idea it was that I had to remove all my wisdom teeth, but, I’m assuming, it was a dentist. I was in college, home on winter break and booked mid-week for ortho surgery to pull out all the impacted teeth in one fell swoop.
Somehow, as a grossly uncoordinated and clumsy person, I had never broken a bone or injured myself to the point of needing anesthesia. This situation worried my mom. It is possible to be allergic to the gas and they can’t test a person’s reaction until they’re under so the whole thing is sort of a medical crap shoot.
I remember the morning of the surgery very specifically because I (running late,) haphazardly pulled a sweatshirt out of the dirty laundry and didn’t notice until we were in the car, well on our way to Springfield, MA, that it stunk. My nostrils detected a bouquet of B.O. and Febreeze, which was a clear indication that I had gone running in this sweatshirt and also smoked weed in it. Also, like the cat may have had something to do with it. While I was concerned with the judgment on my hygiene, my mom was worried, as she regularly preoccupied herself with the thought that whatever was on the calendar was going to kill her children.
“If you feel anything weird, you need to tell them immediately.”
I scrunched my nose at the foul odor, extricated myself from the hooded sweatshirt, and put it on inside out. This was not a simple feat as you cannot take off your seatbelt for any reason while in the car with either of my parents. They lose it.
The new sweatshirt situation did not change the smell. It might have made it worse. I would have taken the garment off altogether but it was December in Massachusetts and the tank top I had on underneath wasn't a particularly appealing option.
We get to the surgery center off of exit three, in a strip mall next to a smoke shop and a PayDay Loans. I fill out all of my medical history with my mother looking over my shoulder like a red-tailed hawk stalking an injured chipmunk. Just to mess with her, I checked “YES,” in the box next to the line Are you pregnant or nursing? I waited for the reaction and when I got none, I realized that perhaps my mom’s contact lenses weren’t so good and keeping the seatbelt on under all circumstances was probably a good call.
The nurse came out, took my clipboard, and led us into the tiny room with those ceilings that action stars always pop in and out of in the movies. I noted the escape route and turned my attention to wondering how people could both crawl on top of a ceiling and also easily remove the panels. It seemed like either the panels are light enough to remove or strong enough to hold a human body but not both. I didn't have time to solve this mystery because the dentist came in.
He explained the procedure and, as I have zero tolerance for blood, I tried my best to tune him out. He scanned the medical questionnaire-
My mom gasps with enough air that I’m sure her body is going to fly back into the wall.
“No,” I roll my eyes, sigh, note my hoodie still really stinks, “that was a joke,”
“We can’t put you under if you’re pregnant.” The dentist explains, a little too harshly for my liking.
Also, it’s really early in the morning and I haven’t been allowed to eat or drink anything for way too long and all of these people without a sense of humor are superbly irritating.
“I’m not pregnant.” I have at least four jokes at the ready but am trying to be better about reading the room and I can tell, even in my non-caffeinated state, that these two people are a pretty tough audience.
“It was a joke,” I mumble into my rancid sweatshirt.
“Alright,” says the dentist as an assistant wheels over a machine and puts two plastic tubes under my nose, “I want you to count back from ten.”
I’ve already decided that I’m going to impress this bald, humorless man with how difficult it’s going to be to knock me out. He’s going to be floored by how strong I am. I'm going to ask him about what he's going to do with my tee--
I wake up an hour later, so I’m told. I was not insensitive to the gas nor did it kill me. In my haze, I see my mother and the nurse telling me not to talk because my mouth is packed full of gauze which, to this day, is not my favorite feeling. But I had to talk. I needed to see my teeth.
“We’ve disposed of them,” explained the nurse, “they’re biohazardous material.”
“BUT THEY’RE MINE.” The words escaped through a muffled mouth, the drool meandering down my chin. “I MADE THEM.”
For the record, I don’t remember this conversation. I don’t remember losing it, getting irate with the poor dental staff, or making my mom help me take off my sweatshirt. I don’t remember crying and calling the dentist a grave robber for stealing my impacted wisdom teeth. I don’t remember having to be escorted to my mom’s Honda CRV by some sort of strip mall security.
I do remember finally waking up in my parent’s living room in the dark on the old chenille couch, very cold without my stinky sweatshirt. I remember reaching around the couch frantically until my fingers found that cuddle-me-soft material and, smelly or not, I put it over my head, my arms in the sleeves and my hands in the front kangaroo pouch, when my fingers touched… something?
I pulled out a small glass jar, squinting in the night and heard the rattle of, yeah, teeth.
Bless that nurse and, if you’re ready this, I’m honestly sorry.
The next morning, I re-checked to make sure that the altered possession of my teeth wasn’t a dream. Nope, they were right there in the glass jar, next to my pillow, which, thinking about this in retrospect, was a very good experiment to disprove the existence of the tooth fairy.
I went to the bathroom, rinsed my mouth, and swallowed whatever prescriptions they prescribed. Then I went back to my teeth. I was kinda stoked to show them to people. They had these impressively long roots that looked like fangs of their own. It was cool. A little gross, but definitely cool. Then I took a closer look. At this point, the painkillers may have kicked in.
If I was going to show these to people, I wanted them to be whiter. I have always been a little vain but, not, like that smart. So, I brought the jar up to the laundry room, found some bleach under the sink, and poured it into the jar.
I vaguely remember spending the day watching a Ricki Lake marathon and eating Jell-o. That night I checked on the teeth. They were not yellowish like they were that morning. They were lavender.
And I showed them to everybody.